The Mando Footloose is foldable, but heavy to carry. All Photos © Leyla Basaran, Stylepark
The board computer of the Footloose also serves as a digital bike lock that secures the e-bike.
As the world's first e-bike, the Footloose runs without a chain.
Because of the hidden technology, the focus is on the bicycle’s design.
By pedaling power is generated, which extends the reach of the e-bike.
The Mando Footloose is not the epitome of e-mobility, but an important step in this direction.
Keep your energy for after the ride
by Michael Baumgartner
Mar 14, 2014

In recent years the bicycle has been enjoying a boom in Europe’s metropolises on a scale no one would have dreamed of in the preceding car-crazy decades. Consequently, the good old pushbike has evolved from the chosen mode of transport of green-minded technology sceptics into the hip accessory of a trend-minded city elite. Surprisingly, in times of ubiquitous efforts to increase efficiency, many urban cyclists demonstrate a somewhat anti-cyclical approach: “Fixies” and classic bicycles have long since beaten optimized high-tech machines well into third place. Meaning it is not hard facts such as weight and the number of gears that entice customers when buying a bike, but soft aspects such as look-and-feel and the riding experience. Added to which, more than ever before, the bicycle today epitomizes a freedom of mobility that is not shackled to timetables and impaired by tailbacks, but fits in with people’s desire to be fit and green. That said, can pedelecs like “Footloose” by Korean manufacturer Mando really capture this lifestyle and translate it into a new product?

Organically inspired Futurism

Pebbles rounded by wind and water, the soft curves of the human body and a seagull’s wings, says British industrial designer Mark Sanders, are the things that inspired him when shaping the Mando Footloose foldable e-bike. Even so, “Footloose” has a surprisingly futuristic look-and-feel and seems just perfect for taking a ride through the urban jungle. In 2013, Mando bagged a Red Dot Design Award for the two-wheel vehicle that oozes zeitgeist like no other. In its statement the jury said: “Its sculptural character and the ease with which it is folded and transported are fascinating.” By contrast, critical observers are keen to detect features of a home exercise bike that has been made fit for the road. When examining “Footloose” in the Stylepark editorial office, fans and critics agreed on one point, and that was that the wide, coarse welding seams jar with the otherwise clear anatomy of the frame, attracting unwanted attention.

Keeping your pants clean

Let’s hit the road then. Taking the Mando Footloose on a ride around Frankfurt we swiftly realized that this bike is one to cause a real sensation among the people in town. The extraordinary design paired with the soft humming of the motor turned plenty of heads as people tried to catch a closer look. Be it businessmen in the banking district or families on the banks of the Main – they all stared quite openly. Whether their sheer curiosity also sparked enthusiasm is a moot point, of course.

The Mando Footloose is powered by series hybrid technology that eliminates the need for a chain. Simply by pushing the pedals the cyclist triggers acceleration and generates additional power, which extends the pedelec’s range. Compared with traditional parallel hybrid drives that use a chain, many mechanical parts have been eliminated, slashing production costs and making maintenance considerably easier. The added benefit for the rider: They can kiss goodbye to chain tattoos on their legs or pants.

The battery has been ingeniously integrated into the bike and takes three hours to recharge; any conventional power point will do. A fully charged battery will, depending on your riding style and road conditions, let you cover up to 40 kilometers – more than enough for a trip around town. Which is just as well, because once the battery is empty the e-bike cannot be powered mechanically by pedaling and instead has to be pushed or loaded into a taxi. Given that it weighs in at 21.7 kilos many an e-biker will no doubt then have to hope a kind taxi driver lends a hand.

Little influence on speed

Pedal-pushing only produces power for the e-motor and does nothing in the form of mechanic power transmission, which means that the first time you cover ground by “Footloose” you’ll find it quite disconcerting. That said, the acceleration is instantly convincing, although fit and experienced cyclists may find themselves pedaling on empty, a downright silly sight, as my colleagues were quick to remark. For pedaling harder, as you will learn, does not automatically translate into higher speed. On top of which you don’t really get to enjoy a smooth cruise, something that may stem from the fact that the rider has little influence on the point of acceleration. Sadly, sensors and automatic transmission do not suffice to deliver the sensation of simply gliding along. And, given the top speed of 25 kilometers per hour, it is not unusual for riders of conventional bikes to whizz past you on the promenade along the Main.

If you ride a “Footloose” for the daily commute between your home and the office you need to bear these shortcomings in mind. Added to which the bike has no pannier rack or other option to attach a bag. So get yourself a backpack if you want to take part in the mobility of the future.

You won’t break sweat riding it – but lifting it

The Mando Footloose’s “board computer” indicates the speed, battery power and distance covered. Plus it serves as a safety system because the bike’s e-motor does not start up without it. Pushing the pedelec is always an option though. Meaning that after a relaxing, sweat-free ride you are in for a challenging workout lugging the machine up the stairs to your turn-of-the-century loft. After all, not every building and subway station necessarily features an elevator, potentially turning your stylish e-mobility trip into an act of sheer muscle power.

Style over function

So let us recap: For just shy of 4,000 euros you can get a designer bike that is less geared towards function and instead flaunts a futuristic look-and-feel and on evoking a lifestyle at any cost. For a product that has passed the prototype stage and gone into mass production there are far too many weaknesses. Which takes the fun out of riding and makes the e-bike unsuitable for everyday use. There would seem to still be limitations to freedom on two wheels.